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Dukkah - how did we do without it?

"a deeply fragrant, crunchy mix, neither paste nor powder, but somewhere in between, and deeply, headily scented. ... Sometimes I tip it straight from the jar into my hand and eat it like a fistful of peanuts." Nigel Slater

David seems to have been delighted with my yesterday's 'what's for dinner tonight?' post, so here I go again, although not with so many questions. I sort of know what I'm doing here. However the crucial ingredient - dukkah - is worth a post of its own. And two coincidental happenings have added to its inclusion as a topic for a rambling post.

This by the way is a photo of my remaining dukkah and the reason for deciding to cook dukkah crusted salmon for dinner tonight. It's Friday after all, so a good day for fish and achieving my goal of at least one fish dish per week. In this day and age dukkah crusted salmon is a relatively common dish. A replacement for the packaged breadcrumbs of my youth. You can coat it all over after having removed the skin and fry. Or you can leave the skin on and just top the other side with it before frying - or baking or grilling. Barbecues could come in too I guess. I'm going to go with method number one though, because I like dukkah and I would also like to use all of my remains up. It's time to make a new batch.

I use Claudia Roden's original recipe from her first book. It was certainly the first of hers that I owned - A Book of Middle-Eastern Food, and the book that introduced me (and the rest of the world too) to that wonderful cuisine. I don't think I made the dukkah though for many years. 1971 was the year I was given the book by David, but I don't think I thought about dukkah until I had encountered it many years later in various Middle-Eastern restaurants.

Her recipe makes a vast quantity which I halve but which is still a lot and will fill a large jar. You can find an even smaller version on the Oldways site. However, Claudia Roden does say that it can be stored indefinitely in covered jars.

For her recipe you roast or grill all the ingredients separately and then pound them a bit, or pulse them briefly in a food processor - much easier. The aim is a fairly clearly defined mix, not a powder or a past. So just pulse until the nuts are in small pieces. Her ingredients are:

500g sesame seed, 250g coriander seed, 125g hazelnuts 125g ground cumin, salt and pepper.

Of course there are a vast number of alternative recipes out there, and she says herself that it's a personal thing and everyone has their own version. Pistachios seem to be a common replacement for the hazelnuts these days. Or macadamias. The recipe she gives is her mother's. Interestingly, considering she was writing back in 1968 when we followed recipes to the letter and didn't improvise much, she encouraged her readers to experiment and adjust according to their own tastes.

Claudia Roden and her book are the first two coincidences of this post. This particular book is the next in my First Recipe series and is sitting on my desk right now, waiting for the next day I am totally uninspired. In addition this week's Guardian Newsletter was headed by an article on the 20 best Claudia Roden recipes to celebrate over 50 years of published books and last year's release of Med - a book I have yet to buy. But I will. Below are photos of her young and now - around 85 years old I believe, and that work changing book. Time passes.

The second coincidence is my Wednesday purchase of Yotam Ottolenghi's book Extra Good Things, about which I shall write in a later post. The concept of this book is to give recipes for all those little flavour boosters that make a dish and that can be used in so many different ways elsewhere. And there on page 136 is dukkah in a gorgeous looking dish of Root vegetables and harissa chickpeas with dukkah. Harissa is another of those extra things of course. Ottolenghi's dukkah recipe is different of course - 30g blanched hazelnuts, 30g pine nuts, 2 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 1/2 tbsp black and white sesame seeds, 1 tsp dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon paprika - plus salt. So play around. Almost anything goes. The very simplest version is sold on the streets of Cairo and consists merely of dried crushed mint, salt and pepper.

Or yo can go to Coles or Woolworths and buy some ready-made - they have three different versions from Table of Plenty. But why would you? The Coles versions cost $3.00 for 45g. Without costing out Claudia Roden's ingredients I doubt it would come to anywhere near that, and it only takes a few minutes to put together.

So you've got your dukkah. Now what will you do with it?

"The spice mix, ... is invaluable for introducing crunch, spice and aroma to everything from creamed chickpeas to mashed broad beans. It offers texture to a smooth purée and warm spicy notes to anything mild and creamy, perhaps a broad bean hummus or a purée of sweet roots such as beetroot, or pumpkin.

Stir the seed and spice mix into a little olive oil and you have an intense dip for torn pieces of warm flatbread, or for dipping sticks of celery or boiled eggs into. If I am using yogurt as a sauce for trickling over couscous, grilled chicken or steamed vegetables then out comes this spice mix, tossed like a farmer scattering seed, over the surface." Nigel Slater

Well, for me, the major benefit of dukkah is as an appetiser when you have unexpected guests. Put some in a dish, beside a dish of olive oil and some tasty bread and you have something that will keep people eating whilst they drink, for quite a while. You can even make it more interesting by presenting different olive oils to compare.

Mostly though we just sprinkle it on things - like Ottolenghi in that dish above. One writer suggested sprinkling it on honey on crumpets, sardines on toast or on soup. Salads, tray bakes, roasts of any kind. It gives that so in-demand crunch. Or crumb things with it - chicken and any kind of fish seem to be popular, but I've also seen it on lamb, pork - anything really. Honestly it's a super thing to have in your cupboard.

And tonight it's going to coat my salmon fillets. And yes, I did feel slightly guilty at buying salmon but I don't do it very often. I also thought I would serve it with a creamy lemon sauce, and the asparagus that was amazingly cheap in the supermarket this morning. And oven fries - perhaps dusted with dukkah. But here I pause, for when I check out all the recipes for dukkah coated salmon - and there are lots and lots - not one of them had any sauce with them. They all tended to look like variations of this dish from Donna Hay - Dukkah crusted salmon with cucumber and chill salad. Beautiful but dry to my mind. A squeeze of lemon - another common accompaniment is not the answer for me either.

Maggie Beer's Dukkah coated salmon was the only one I could find with any mention of any kind of sauce - and her's was a verjuice hollandaise which is rather fussier than I was looking for. Besides there's just a little dob of it. I don't think she crusted her salmon on both sides either, so I guess it wouldn't matter so much. It's a dilemma.

I suppose the reasoning behind this lack of sauce is that it would make the crunch go soggy. And I guess there's a certain truth to that. Crunch or sauce seems to be the choice. Can you have both?

No I shall persist, but serve the sauce separately so that it can gradually be added in small amounts. After all the asparagus would benefit from it wouldn't it? And I did find this lemon sauce from the Café Delites lady. It's not the same kind of dish at all as the salmon is baked and there is no crunch involved at all. This is all silky smooth stuff. Just what I fancy for my sauce though. Maybe perch the salmon the chips and let them go soggy instead? Well even if they come out soggy - my oven fries often do - it's not really great if they are sitting in a puddle of sauce is it?

At this stage I think I shall make the sauce and then decide what to do with it.

So there you go David - Dukkah crusted salmon with lemon sauce, oven fries and asparagus. Maybe the last of the beans too.


And what about yesterday's experiment with a veggie galette? Total success I would have to say. Maybe I had the balance in the vegetables wrong - too many peas, too few beans and carrots? Indeed maybe too much filling. I cooked them as I said - carrots first with butter, a pinch of sugar and water just to cover, then added the beans a bit later and finally the peas. The crispy mushrooms on top were good though. The pak choy and the onions provided a bland base and nutrition. The sliced tomatoes were perhaps a bit unnecessary. But the labne base was excellent, although I didn't really have enough of it. However as with his own original version, Ottolenghi's pastry was the star. I can take no credit for that. And because I did not have a very circular piece of pastry I declined to do the posher way of folding over the edges and went for rustic. The greenish dobs on top are a parsley pesto. David liked it anyway. Which is always a relief. We only ate half so leftovers reheated later next week.

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